Recently, the Space Kingdom of Asgardia inaugurated its first Head of Nation, and no, you haven’t suddenly time-traveled to the year 3000—this happened this past June. Right now, Asgardia has about 200,000 “citizens” registered online, its own parliament (with 147 elected representatives), a satellite in orbit, and plans to build permanent human habitats in space within 25 years. Like SpaceX, Asgardia is headed by a wealthy, science-minded tycoon, it seems ambitious bordering on insane, and it promises everyone the chance to go to space.
So, is Asgardia the real deal? What does the future look like for this brave space nation? And should you become a citizen? Here’s what you need to know.
HISTORY OF ASGARDIA
Like the city of Rapture in Bioshock, Asgardia is the dream project of one man with a vision for a utopia unfettered by government interference: Russian millionaire Igor Ashurbeyli, the founder of the Aerospace International Research Center in Vienna and current chairman of UNESCO’s Science of Space committee. Ashurbeyli first came up with the idea for Asgardia in 2016, and after consulting with some space law experts at McGill University, he decided to start laying the groundwork for his space nation.
In October 2016, the nation began accepting applications for citizenship and received over half a million submissions, which were eventually whittled down to around 200,000, making it the 169th most populous “nation” in the world, at least on paper. Asgardia’s constitution was ratified in August 2017, 147 members of Asgardia’s Parliament were confirmed in April 2018, and Ashurbeyli was elected head of Asgardia this June. Most important of all, however, was the November 2017 launch of Asgardia’s first space satellite, which carried a memory drive with 512 GB of data from its various citizens and technically granted it a tiny territorial “foothold” in space.
Since then, Asgardians have gathered all over the world (and online) to talk about plans for their new nation. In an interview with CNN, Hong Kong Asgardian Rayven Sin explained the appeal of Asgardia: "The society we live in now—everything seems to be either capitalism or communism—there's a lot of conflict. As a human being, I would hope [to see] if we could have other ways [of living]. For a better life, and for more options."
According to their website, the three main goals of Asgardia are to 1) make space peaceful and open to everyone, 2) create a “scientific base of knowledge in space,” and 3) protect Earth from space threats, like solar flares and asteroids. According to Ashurbeyli, “The essence of Asgardia is peace in space and the prevention of Earth’s conflicts being transferred into space.” Asgardian representatives have even sent a memo calling for the demilitarization of space in the wake of the Trump administration’s planned creation of a Space Force.
Eventually, Ashurbeyli envisions Asgardia becoming a sort of transcendental space haven where Earth-people can let go of their national and cultural differences and strive for a unified planet. He also sees it as a haven for scientists whose discoveries and inventions will be shared with everyone, no matter their country. “By uniting in Asgardia, the progressive part of humanity can offer the whole civilization on Earth an alternative by replacing geopolitics with space politics and thereby open up a path to a new spiral of development,” says Ashurbeyli.
In addition to those high-minded goals, there are some… wilder ones, too.
According to the Constitution of Asgardia, the nation will create a robotic fleet of spaceships to defend Earth, as well as ‘Space Arks’ to ensure humanity’s survival in the case of a catastrophe. Apart from asteroids and solar flares, Asgardia wants to protect Earth from changes in its magnetosphere, climate change, cosmic radiation from nuclear reactions in supernovae, and infection by alien microorganisms.
Putting aside the cost of all these plans, it’s not clear yet how Ashurbeyli intends to do all this, unless he wants the equivalent of a Dyson sphere to protect the planet.
BUILDING A SPACE NATION
At first glance, all this sounds exciting—a new, tiny space nation by the people, for the people! But once you start to look closer at Asgardia’s plans, some hard realities start to come into view.
From the beginning, Ashurbeyli has aimed for his fledgling nation to be acknowledged by the U.N., which means Asgardia needs four things: a population, a functioning government, territory, and recognition by other countries. Asgardia technically does have citizens and a government, but the “territory” part has become a major sticking point: despite claiming that its satellite (which is about the size of a loaf of bread) constitutes “territory” in space; the 1967 Outer Space Treaty ensures that no nation can claim territory in space, and that any spacecraft launched from a country becomes subject to that country’s laws. This puts Asgardia in a Catch-22: Asgardia would have to violate an international treaty to become a country, then ask those same treaty signees to recognize it as legit.
On top of that, Ashurbeyli claims that he’s the sole funder of Asgardia (and has repeatedly said that he’s not billionaire), which makes the prospect of creating permanent space habitats highly unlikely: The ISS cost $160 billion to build and took the cooperation of multiple countries to complete, while companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin both have budgets of around $1 billion annually. Even the ISS’ astronauts aren’t permanent residents—they only stay in orbit for about six months, in part because the effects of microgravity and radiation cause dangerous physical conditions like muscle atrophy.
Apart from the practical aspects of building a space colony, Asgardia has already run into some major problems within its Earth-bound government: Asgardian citizens have complained that the parliamentary elections were flawed or even fixed, that there was no real option to reject the Asgardian constitution, and that Asgardia isn’t a democracy, it’s a constitutional monarchy ruled by Ashurbeyli, who can dissolve Parliament at his discretion (hence the name “Space Kingdom”).
SHOULD YOU BECOME A CITIZEN?
Let’s be frank here: When it comes to space empires, the player-run corporations of EVE Online are probably more effective and organized than Asgardia. In addition to existing in a legal paradox that will ensure it never gains international recognition and hosting space defense plans that would strain the resources of any global superpower, Asgardia’s online government is a worldwide Model Congress exercise at best and a pseudo-tyrannical vanity project at worst.
We’ve encountered a situation like this before with Mars One, which also went through a meteoric rise as idealistic participants rushed in to apply, followed by an embarrassing crash and burn as it was revealed that the CEO and CTO had no practical way to follow through on their vague promises of sending people to space.
You’ve got nothing to lose by becoming a citizen of Asgardia, but right now, it’s a safer bet that Flat Earth conspiracist/DIY rocketeer “Mad Mike” Hughes is going to go to space before you do. And he doesn’t even have a parliament.